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Because together, anything is possible!

By Taitues Tonio Ango Michael, Programme Assistant, Wildlife Conservation of Sarawak Conservation Programme

Taitues Tonio Ango Micheal joined the Panda family in 2018 as a programme assistant for the wildlife conservation team of Sarawak Conservation Programme.  Previously he was a manager at a food and beverage outlet.  He switched jobs as he wanted to try something new and get away from the hustle bustle of city life. However, Taitues or Tai for short, never expected that the career with WWF would bring such drastic physical and mental challenges. Looking back  today, this young Panda has a better understanding what conservation work entails and the true meaning of Together Possible which WWF advocates. 

To begin, let’s take a look back in November 2018 when a team of five conservationists stepped foot for an adventure into the wilderness of Sarawak. I, with four others, were new recruits to the Sarawak Conservation Programme and have been assigned to follow our senior biologist,

Lukmann Haqeem Alen, to conduct orang-utan nest survey in the most upstream of Katibas River in Kapit Division. The area also nestles inside the Heart of Borneo. After a long  journey from Kuching City to a small town called Song, we met up with six local guides and boatmen who will bring us upstream. 

We often hear conservation wins in the mainstream and social media, and other forms of publications, and it is only natural to do so because the focus and highlight of any conservation work is set by organizations’ research’s goals. Hence, success stories were often shared in the form of breakthroughs in scientific findings or surveys.  However, behind all these success stories, most people are unaware of the hardship that comes with any field work. It is only when I had the opportunity to be part of the Panda’s wildlife conservation team, that I realized this.

Today, I see those working for the betterment of our planet with a new light. People who do this for their whole life as a mission are very dedicated and awesome group of people. They are risking their lives to explore places that are so remote - without any form of telecommunication services - and at the same time, sacrificing quality time with their loved one back home.

Back to my first field work with the team, our targeted survey site is located within one of the toughest terrains and mighty rivers of the bewildering rainforest of Borneo. The only way to access the area is by a longboat. This boat is traditionally engineered by the Iban community for hundreds of years and built to survive the untamed river. The boat's aerodynamic narrow design allows it to cut through the swift water flow while its lightweight built  enables it to be carried up, going against the current between big and sharp rocks. 

Let alone the tough terrains, the team brought along hundreds of kilograms of equipment and food ration to last for three weeks in the forest.  The biggest challenge that the team had to endure is the Giam rapid. The strong rapid forced the team to unload everything from the longboats and the outboard boat engines had to be disassembled to be carried by hand.  

The 2km-cold and wet battle against nature lasted for three hours. While pushing the boats, we carried the heavy loads of field equipment climbing through big, sharp and slippery boulders, progressing an inch at a time. The local boatmen and guides maneuvered the boats through repetitive pushing and pulling motions and this seemed like an endless struggle with Mother Nature. 

The team had to travel back and forth for six times through this same path for three different phases just to reach the location survey. During the second phase of the trip, one of the local guides suffered serious injury - a dislocated shoulder -  that stalled the trip.  

Like any cycle of life, there are always ups and downs. The Katibas River offers the extreme ends of both  - the high and low water river. During the dry season, the water level gets extremely low making it almost impossible for the longboats to pass through. The outboard engine had to be disassembled many times or raised higher to avoid damage from hitting against the rocky riverbed. Our boatman or the jaga luan  used  a long stick, acting as a steer to push the boat forward. Jaga luan means the guide who sits in front of the boat to help the boatman with navigation in Iban language. Every 10 minutes or so, all members have to get off the boat and help to push the boats.  

Conservation field work is never easy. Nature is entwined with hopes and challenges for humans to explore and protect.  The Sarawak’s wildlife conservation team is ever eager and brave to face these dangers, physical and mental exhaustion due to exertion anticipated ahead to get a step closer to science.  

I admit I do feel really fatigued at some point and I think I just cannot continue anymore during field work.  Sometimes I feel like giving up from time to time when we face difficult situations in the field such as getting lost. But the determination to finish what we set out to do and to achieve what we want for the betterment of our planet and species kept me going. And whenever one of us is feeling down, we always remind ourselves as a team that we are doing a good job, and we have to soldier on. 

Looking at the bright sight of my work, there are not many people who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to contribute in conserving our home and other living creatures. Hence, to be able to share what we do with the public meant a lot for me and my team members who often go to the field. I hope that with this little sharing of mine, the public will understand what goes behind the scene in conservation and inspire others to do their part to conserve our forests, wildlife and rivers - our only home. Together, let’s share and protect our home.

As the American author, journalist and  professor  Walter Isaacson said, “Vision without execution is just hallucination. You need the right combination of visionary and team that can execute.” We, in WWF, exert the utmost capabilities in our field of expertise, and we hope that everyone else can offer their roles to protect the planet and all living things within it. 

Look deep into nature, then you will understand everything better – Albert Einstein.

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